Toshiba hauled the gate shut for the final time on its incandescent light bulb factory today—ending a production run that dates back to 1890. The reason? The eco-unfriendly, inefficient, thermo-luminescent tech has had its day.
Toshiba's history in light bulb making dates back to the Tokyo-based Hakunetsu-sha company, which churned out just 10 bulbs per day at first. Through various business incorporations, and advances in technology, Toshiba's bulb production soared to 78 million bulbs per year in 1973—over 900 per second—before slowly slipping to just 7 million last year. The compact fluorescent bulb made up some of that slack in 2009, with some 14 million of the more eco-friendly units rolling off the production line.
It's the eco-footprint of the incandescent bulb that is really the cause of its doom. Due to hard physics and chemistry, its efficiency in turning electrical energy into visible light is extremely limited, and much of the energy from all those whizzing electrons is diverted into waste heat. Of course it was cutting-edge tech for over a century, and the science that made them glow resulted in improved designs in terms of both efficiency and bulb longevity. But now there are alternatives that are so far advanced that the incandescent bulb really is a dinosaur.
First up is the CFL—darling of governments worldwide who are keen to impress the public with eco-friendly policies. A 23-Watt CFL gives out about the same light flux as a standard 100-Watt incandescent. It may cost more per unit, and its production is much more complex (with a few questions over the eco-friendliness of the chemicals involved), but its electrical efficiency and longevity mean a smaller carbon footprint and reduced household energy consumption.
But the real way ahead in lighting tech, which Toshiba is energetically following, is in LEDs. The efficiency of standard LEDs is so far ahead of CFLs (by about a factor of 10) that they simply have to be the go-to tech solution for eco-friendly lighting in the future. The upcoming paradigm shift toward organic LEDs (OLED) will push this advantage yet further, while resulting in more natural light from the units. Despite a twinge of nostalgia for the end of Edison's invention, this is why Toshiba's shuttering of incandescent production is a fabulous thing—it frees up the company to really focus on the next gen stuff.
To keep up with news like this, follow me, Kit Eaton, on Twitter. You can access that URL via the Microsoft Tag on the left there, if you've got a reader app installed on your smartphone.